Once upon a time, Mary had a little lamb. One day, that little lamb was slaughtered and a thin layer of that lamb’s cecum — a part of its intestine — was made into a condom so that you could use it to have sex without making babies. And everyone lived happily ever after — except, well, the lamb.
Yes, despite the name, lambskin condoms aren’t exactly made from a lamb’s actual skin. It is, nonetheless, a piece of a lamb’s membrane that a man can wrap around his penis to prevent him from impregnating a woman. But not — and this part is rather important — from contracting an STD, since the condom skin itself has small pores through which STD viruses can possibly pass.
This being the case, why would any man use a lambskin condom? Well, assuming you’re with a partner you trust to be disease-free and are using them purely as contraception, there are a few perks:
- Lambskin condoms seem to have a more natural feel (even more so than polyurethane and polyisoprene condoms). This leads to a different type of sensitivity that has been described as a very intimate sensation.
- Lambskin condoms transmit body heat better than latex condoms, which adds an even greater sensation during sexual intercourse.
- Lambskin condoms are biodegradable, which is a bonus if you’re trying to have sex in an environmentally conscious way.
- The only lambskin condoms currently available in the US happen to be the largest condoms available — 2.7 inches wide and 7.9 inches long.
- And of course, these condoms are a great option if you or your partner is allergic to latex.
But where did these porous, intestinal rubbers originate from? According to Aine Collier’s comprehensive history of the prophylactic, The Humble Little Condom, condoms made from the intestinal lining of mammals have been around for millennia — sausage-makers in Europe often ran a side business making condoms, in fact. Some people even reused their lambskin condoms, which, while not sanitary, does speak to the durability of these meat casings (the oldest known surviving condom is a reusable Swedish pig-intestine prophylactic from the 1640s).
Far earlier than that, they were popular in the great cultural bastion of perversion otherwise known as the Roman Empire. In 15th century China, too, condoms may have been made of lamb intestines (when they weren’t made of oiled silk paper, at least).
In the U.S., lambskin condoms did experience brief popularity — or at least, some sales growth — between 1986 and 1988, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. But they never completely took off, due to their one very big flaw that we touched on earlier: They couldn’t pass the tests to evaluate condoms devised by scientists at the height of the AIDS crisis. As the FDA’s own scientists concluded in 1990, “the natural membrane condom may not be totally protective in actual-use conditions.” By 1991, the FDA had begun requiring lambskin condoms to carry a label stating, “Not to be used for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). To help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many STDs, use only latex condoms.”
And that, as you can probably imagine, was pretty much that.
Today, only one brand still produce lambskin condoms, and they’re nearly double the price of the regular latex kind. (Lambskin condoms cost about $32 for 10 online, compared to about $14 for a 36-pack of latex condoms.) But hey, if the thought of pre-lovemaking animal sacrifice turns you on, you’ll really get your money’s worth.